“The importance of the sandwich to western habits of eating is incalculable.”
Oxford Companion to Food
We have all partaken in the convenience that a sandwich brings to a meal. There are very few meals that can be eaten on the go, but you can almost always rely on a sandwich to feed you while, say, multitasking, walking, or driving (which of course, you should never do). It is largely for this reason that I have decided to take Anatomy of a Sandwich on the road. That’s right…for the next month, I will be driving cross country, taking down the best sandwiches America has to offer.
This all worked out because of my friends at Love, the Bus: Tyler, Seth, and Corey. Last year, they converted an old school bus into a biodiesel RV, and then spent last summer traveling from Maine to Los Angeles. The purpose of the trip? To help people who deserve it (mostly youth organizations) by doing crazy activities. They made the trip interactive by creating a web series where people could not only follow along, but also suggest challenges, places to go, and people to help. Four months on the road, 2,300 donated dollars, and six months of re-padding the bank accounts later, the boys are driving Chartreuse back to Maine, and kindly invited me to join them! Aside from following my eating adventures here, you can also follow our trip by clicking the link above!
One beautiful winter day in Los Angeles, Chris and I decided that it was time for lunch, and, doggone it, we would find ourselves a delicious sandwich. One failed attempt later, Chris suggested that we check out an italian deli by his place that he had noticed. Having already wasted quality eating time getting lost and being teased by unopened cafes, Chris and I were hungry enough to take down a zebra each by the time we parked. And then we walked in.
It was the smell that hit us first. You know that scene in Ratatouille, the one where the critic with no soul takes a bite and is transported back to his childhood in the French countryside? That first aroma was just like that, except that it took me to an Italian childhood I never had (same for Chris, though that was actually his childhood). But seriously, the smell hit us so hard that it stopped us just inside the doorway and held us there for a full thirty seconds, just breathing it in, until we looked at each other, grinning.
Our noses took us straight to the hot case, where a proud Italian matron was lording over the sandwich proceedings. Above her, almost completely unnoticeable, was the sandwich menu. A simple board with an even simpler list, it looks so old that our first impression was that it had been there since the deli opened fifty years ago. What really confused us, you see, were the prices: this board proclaimed that the most expensive sandwich cost $5.50! After a good deal of questioning double takes, Chris and I decided to just go for it.
We immediately realized that ordering a sandwich can be quite an ordeal. Though there is no hard and fast rule regarding what goes on one of these sandwiches, if the Italian mama doesn’t like your selection, she won’t hesitate to make her disapproval known. On this first visit, Chris got a large, double meat pastrami, and I a large, combination sub. And then I made a mistake — I asked for mayo. Now you would think that by now, I would know to just take the food as it comes, but I am a sucker for mayonnaise. Let me tell you, the look she gave me made me want to move to a place where they’d never heard of mayo. After giving me a decisive “no” I decided that this was not a battle worth fighting, and took the footlong sandwich she handed me with all the gratitude and shame I could muster.
The shock that Chris and I received when we got to the register (a vintage metal till) and our two sandwiches and drinks cost about $12 was palpable. And though I must admit that the combo sub is not the best I’ve had, everything else is. The pastrami is just outrageously tasty, the meatballs and Italian sausage both taste like your grandma just made them (and ohhh how I wish the sandwich matron was my grandmother), and the beef and peppers may even top the pastrami. These days, I stick to a small sandwich (grand total with a drink is $4) because the bread is a little better and I can definitely take the whole thing down. I also stick to the hot sandwiches because it’s all homemade and sitting right in front of you wafting its delicious aroma in your direction.
But regardless of what it is that you get, everything is delicious. Coincidentally, we never would have found this place if our first choice hadn’t been deserted. I suppose it just goes to show, having an open mind and trying new things really can lead to great places…and great sandwiches.
Following my stay in Connecticut, I took a trip to the Big Apple, mostly to visit my little brother, a freshman at NYU, and my best friend Alex. Also important was seeing Will, a good friend from college and a New Yorker through and through. Therefore, I knew Will would be imperative to finding a great sandwich in New York.
He took me to Num Pang, a hole in the wall off Union Square, that serves Cambodian-style sandwiches. The pork sandwich is their best seller, and consistently sells out early in the day, which was the case on my visit. Will suggested the catfish sandwich, and if the pork really is better, it must be one hell of a sandwich. Ordering takes place on the sidewalk through a small window in the restaurant, and just behind the guy taking your order, you can see the entire kitchen.
The sandwich itself was complex in all the right ways. The catfish was cooked perfectly, flaky and spicy. For those of you who have been following along, you know that the presence of cucumbers on the sandwich always scores major points with me. The chili mayo accentuated the peppercorn aspect of the catfish, while the sweet soy sauce complemented the kick provided by the other ingredients. I’ve never seen cilantro used the way it is in this sandwich: a handful of it takes up the role usually held by lettuce. One of the best parts of this sandwich for me however, is the tagline on the menu:
Our sandwiches were created to enjoy as they are so PLEASE, NO MODIFICATIONS.
These are the kind of sandwich purists I like.
The food truck phenomenon that has swept Los Angeles, and for that matter, the country, has been the subject of both praise and criticism. Thus far, however, I have only had good experiences.
A few months ago, I received a phone call from my mother telling me that a food truck called No Reservations was on a street by our house and that I should go check it out. For those of you who don’t know me, I am an avid fan of Anthony Bourdain, who has a fantastic television show by the name of No Reservations. I therefore decided to go see if this truck had anything to do with Tony or his show (knowing that it most likely didn’t) and hoped that regardless, I would get some good food out of the whole adventure.
It turned out that the truck had absolutely no connection to Bourdain, but my disappointment was quickly countered by the menu, which boasts simply:
HOT WRAPS: $8.00
Needless to say, I was stoked. Not only that, but each wrap is comprised of interesting ingredients with a movie title for a name. In addition, I was lucky enough to stop at the truck as a new employee was trying out each wrap. As I waited for my wrap, the Good Fellas, I hovered over the array of deliciousness being lined up in front of me. The girl eventually noticed me, and the guy showing her the wraps (manager? owner?) offered me half of the Silence of the Lambs (marinated roasted leg of lamb, middle eastern rice, spaghetti squash, red pepper hummus, and pomegranate red wine sauce). I couldn’t stop myself from digging in before taking a picture (photo #3). The wrap was unbelievable…the lamb was a little well done for my tastes, but the flavor was great and complemented perfectly by the spices in the rice and the surprising texture of the spaghetti squash. Most amazing was the tanginess that the pomegranate delivered, creating an unusual flavor profile.
I finally got my wrap and headed home, where I encountered a similar experience: though every component of the wrap made sense as a complete whole, there were tastes that were surprising and different. This wrap consisted of grilled New York steak, roasted garlic potatoes, gorgonzola cheese with cracked peppercorns and red beet horseradish creme fraiche, comprising a sandwich that has not one ingredient that I wouldn’t eat in a heartbeat. In the Good Fellas, I found that the gorgonzola provided a great bridge between the classic meat and potatoes and the modern red beet horseradish creme fraiche. The creamy texture of the cheese, combined with the strength of its flavor, matched the power of the creme fraiche while evening it out to balance the heaviness of the rest of the ingredients.
All in all, I was very sad that I didn’t get to meet Anthony Bourdain, but this exciting and surprising food experience was definitely worth the disappointment.
I spent 4th of July weekend at my friend’s house in Welfleet, MA, out almost at the end of Cape Cod. All of my friends from school were there, and let me tell you, it was quite a blast. One of my friends, who was living in the Welfleet house, is currently a student at the Johnson and Wales culinary school in Providence, RI. Needless to say, the girl can cook.
One night, we were getting ready to grill up some burgers when we realized that we were out of propane. Many delays and failures later, Molly offered to make the burgers meatloaf-style. Now I must admit, I was quite hesitant, as I am not the biggest fan of meatloaf. After the first bite, however, I was a convert. This was probably one of the most delicious burgers I have ever eaten. It was juicy and rich in a way that I have never found in a meatloaf, and it was seasoned to perfection.
Now back in California, I recently had some friends over for some BBQing and pool, and once again, one thing led to another and as it got later, the idea of getting the grill going to make burgers was becoming less appealing. I then decided to attempt Molly’s meatloaf-style burgers, since they had been such a success in Cape Cod. Unfortunately, my burgers did not turn out as well as Molly’s but I think the next try will bring much better results. Pictured above is my version of Molly’s burger, made with cheddar cheese, lettuce, and avocado.
Ultimately, this burger is a great example of how to combine cooking techniques to create a new dish. It also illustrates that even the most serious of situations, such as running out of propane, can be remedied with a little outside-the-box thinking.